With the movie Wonder just released I thought I’d I share my two cents worth (pun very much intended). My mind is wired in a way that sometimes annoys even myself. I can see both sides to most situations. There are very few situations where my brain draws a hard-line and refuses to see both sides. The reason why I’ve even said this is that it’s important for the following blog post.
The book and the movie have sparked fierce debate in my Facial Differences Facebook group. I won’t be sharing details but it’s safe to say there are strong feels on both sides. There are some who feel the book and movie are awesome and an amazing step forward for those with facial differences. On the other side there are some that see the book and movie as disgusting way to make money on our backs. I’m in the middle; I see both sides of this coin.
When I first saw the trailer for the movie adaptation of Wonder I didn’t get through it. I broke down and cried like I haven’t cried in a long time. I can’t describe the feeling that washed over me but I can say I was moved. Before I did a deep dive or talked with others I was excited for the movie. I was excited that in 2017 there was finally a movie that allowed me to “see” myself (so to speak). At this point I hadn’t read the book. Did you know that Wonder is only the 2nd movie to focus on facial differences? Did you know that the major difference between them is Wonder is a complete work of fiction and Mask was based on a true story. This difference is important to note; and a point of contention. The book wonder was born from the author’s briefest contact in an ice cream shop where her son reacted rudely to a little girl who had a facial difference. There are those in the facial Difference community who see that the author is making money by sharing a story that is not hers to tell.
Here’s my take understanding I have not seen the movie but I have read the book. I choose to see this book as the tiniest pebble in what I hope is finally a foundation that we’ve been working on for the longest time. We being those in the facial difference community and our allies. The book doesn’t tell my story but it does give the smallest glimpse in to some of the feelings I’ve had in my life. That’s what I want those who read Wonder to get; but to also remember that this wasn’t written by a member of the facial difference community. The book unlike real life puts a nice neat bow at the end of the story it told however even that end carries concerns that I shall leave for another post where I will do a deep dive and review. The aim of this post is to help people understand the role this movie is playing.
When I’m seeing the tweets from people who have seen the movie I’m truly concerned that people aren’t getting it. Not understanding the true impact having a facial difference has on lives. I see tons of people describing the movie as “awe-inspiring” “heart warming” and such. Pretty standard for movies that focus on personal struggles while showing a character going through life with the added stress of something out of the ordinary. I’ve heard before that people see me as an inspiration, as their hero and I’m not comfy with that. It’s as if I should be put on a pedestal just because I get up go to work, look after my mom, pay my bills..etc while having and dealing with a facial difference. My real triumph is I don’t tell everyone off who stare at me is and this is something I would accept being applauded for ’cause that’s a feat. Everyone has their battles, everyone has to juggle home and work balance and some also have to be care givers. The fact that I also have to juggle having a facial difference doesn’t make me any more of a special person than you who read this. It absolutely adds additional challenges and means I have to spend way more money on things like Dental care, eye glasses, and a ton more time doing various things but that’s it.
The other concerns I have with the movie and the book are the marketing strategy / campaign. Specifically the #ChooseKind and the actual image used on the books cover and now on posters and such. Let me first address the #ChooseKind hashtag; to be honest I’m not 100% hating it; as a big picture; it works. Because sadly we do need to be a little more kind to one another. We need to actively teach our kids to be kind because sometimes they grow up to be assholes. I’ve often thought about how sad it is that there needs to exist a chapter or at the vary least a sentence in all employee handbooks addressing this very thing (looking at you Sportchek). As for the image I can say at this point I think I’m 100% against it. Maybe someone will be able to enlighten me as to why a solid white face with no features save for 1 right eye is a good representation for the book; cause I ready it and Auggie has both eyes. I feel like it was almost a cop-out; not showing an actual facial difference being represented does a disservice to the story.
I’ve been getting asked quite a bit if I’m going to see the movie; right now the answer is no. When I go to a movie (which hasn’t happened in a long time) I want to escape my reality, I want to laugh, or be thrilled, what I don’t want is to be confronted with the telling of a story that will have me relive what I went through just to get in to the theatre.
At the end of the day I hope tons of people see this movie so that my (and everyone else’s) facial difference is more normalized. I’m pretty tired and jaded so I’m thinking this movie will get tons of award buzz and lots of people are going to get a ton of money because of it however it will help the community very little. It won’t ensure that kids with facial differences get access to the care they need more easily, it won’t ensure that they truly can grow up and choose any profession they want (actor, news anchor on the evening news, model… etc), it won’t stop kids growing up like I did with no friends. We are all human and flawed and one movie based on a book written I’m sure with the best of intentions won’t make my life any different. For those who see the movie seeing your difference being represented by an able-bodied actor wearing make up to look like you is akin to mocking us. I had kids try to contort their features to try and mock the way I look which was something I had forgotten about for a long time and something I hope to once again forget; but movies like this won’t make that happen. Remember that you can make a difference by having real conversations with kids about differences; facial differences, is just one. Talk to your kids about how wheelchairs are not a burden but provide much needed access to mobility and thus freedom to do the simplest tasks. Tell your kids that those with wheelchairs or facial differences or any difference shouldn’t be pitied or admired but respected as you would respect anyone. Remember that this is only a movie, and that those who live with a facial difference don’t always get happy endings. Remember that love is a powerful tool and can overcome a lot.